From the legendary Mikis Theodorakis, to the experimentalist Vangelis, to the great diva Maria Callas, Greece has exported its fair share of musical greats over the years, showing that the country has more to offer the music world than just bouzouki and sirtaki (great though those are).
Classical music education has always been revered in the country, and in recent decades a number of musical prodigies have gone on to achieve international fame. Below are five of the most prominent (and some of the youngest, their average age being 38), all of whom currently live abroad building remarkable careers. Lend them your ears!
Leonidas Kavakos [b. 1967]
The oldest of the group, Kavakos, is not only a household name in Greece, but also a highly recognized virtuoso violinist across the world. Earlier this year he was awarded the prestigious Danish Léonie Sonning Music Prize, “for his decade-long enrichment of a large audience with his radiant interpretations.” The award is given annually to an internationally recognized composer, instrumentalist, conductor or singer and represents one of the highest musical honors.
And yet, Kavakos is not one to rest on his laurels. Always reserved, with great personal integrity and a never-waning sense of responsibility towards his art and his audience, he works tirelessly away from the limelight to achieve perfection in each of his performances.
Kavakos was born to a musical family and began playing the violin at the age of 5 after receiving one as a Christmas present. At the age of 18 he won the International Sibelius Competition, and since then he has been performing with the most esteemed orchestras around the world, not only as a violinist but also as a conductor.
Latest Recordings by Leonidas Kavakos
1. Brahms, The Violin Sonatas with pianist Yuja Wang
2. Virtuoso (works by Dvorák, Paganini and Strauss, and others)
[both above by Decca]
Teodor Currentzis [b. 1972]
He has been called the “enfant terrible” of Classical music, and also the “conducting equivalent of Glenn Gould morphed with Kurt Cobain.” Unorthodox and striking with his youthful, ‘dandy-gothic’ style, Currentzis is unlike any conductor that has come before, rebellious in how he understands and interprets classical music.
He was born in Greece but has been living in Russia since the early 1990s when he moved there to study conducting at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. Currentzis is now a Russian citizen and permanent resident of a remote, freezing small town in the Urals called Perm. There, he and Musica Aeterna, the orchestra and choir of like-minded artists he formed in 2004, are making music the way they want to “…in an anarchistic way,” as Currentzis likes to say, going against the existing, defined by mass culture, musical system.
His most impressive achievements so far are the studio recordings of three Mozart operas based on librettos by Da Ponte (Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni), which, by general consensus, are so authentic they might have been conducted by Mozart himself. In Currentzis’ words, “I am doing what I think [Mozart] would be doing if he were here in Perm with this orchestra.”
Latest Recordings by Teodor Currentzis
1. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto / Stravinski’s Les Noces [One of the best Classical albums of 2016 according to the New York Times]
2. Mozart’s Don Giovanni
[both above by Sony Music]
Zoi Tsokanou [b.1981,]
Born and raised in Thessaloniki, Zoi Tsokanou is a star on the rise, hailed for her talent, natural ease and musical insight.
She received her first piano lessons at a very young age and later went on to study music at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and then in Zurich at the University of Arts where she also studied conducting.
She has received numerous awards and invitations to international and national conducting competitions, workshops and master classes and has performed with many major orchestras around the world.
Dionysis Grammenos [b.1990]
Despite being the youngest of the group, clarinetist Dionysis Grammenos is no stranger to success. Born and raised in Corfu with its rich musical heritage, he began studying the clarinet at the age of 8 and his musical intelligence and virtuosity quickly became apparent. His international career was launched when he won the First Prize at the Eurovision Young Musicians competition in 2008. In 2013 he was subsequently awarded the Rising Stars prize by the European Concert Hall Organization (ECHO).
Hailed as “the new prince of the clarinet,” Grammenos is also one of the most charismatic conductors of his generation. He made his conducting debut with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and has performed in some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Vienna KonzertHaus and Berliner Philharmonie. Last year he was the first Greek to receive a conducting fellowship at the esteemed Aspen Music Festival and School in the US.
Latest Recordings by Dionysis Grammenos
1. Schumann & Schubert transcriptions for clarinet and harp with Anneleen Lenaerts
2. Spohr, Nielsen, Debussy Clarinet Concertos & Rhapsody
[both by Warner Classics]
Konstantinos Diminakis [b. 1984]
Another musician hailing from Thessaloniki who is now making a career in Austria is conductor Konstantinos Diminakis. After studying music theory and piano at the Conservatory in Thessaloniki and at the University of Macedonia, in 2007 he moved to Austria to study conducting at the Vienna University for Music and Performing Arts.
In 2012 he was chosen as one of the most talented young conductors of Europe by the London Symphony Orchestra at the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition. He has performed with many orchestras around the world and he is also the artistic director and conductor of Orpheus Kammerorchester Wien which he founded in 2011.
With the help of his chamber ensemble consisting of 20 to 30 international musicians, Diminakis attempts to “draw audiences closer to the perks of classical music” while at the same time promoting works by Greek composers, such as Nikos Skalkottas, Manos Hadzidakis and Mikis Theodorakis.